Reality Check with Prof. Paul Dumouchel – the Foreign Policy of Pres. Trump

If Donald Trump’s foreign policy raises serious questions for you, this exclusive Raven ReView interview with political philosopher, Professor Paul Dumouchel is for you. Professor Dumouchel is a well-respected, innovative thinker using the insights of mimetic theory to analyze the rivalry, scapegoating, and the risk of violence in international relationships. I met up with him this summer in Denver at the annual meeting of the Colloquium on Violence & Religion. The conference was titled “After Truth” and he delivered a superb keynote address, Conflict and Truth.

I asked Professor Dumouchel to sit down for an interview for the Raven ReView community, and here are some of the questions I was eager to ask:

What’s up with President Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin? 

Did Trump make a strategic mistake by meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un? 

Are we better or worse off for pulling out of the Iran nuclear disarmament agreement?

Is Trump in a mimetic rivalry with Barack Obama?

You will be pleasantly surprised by Professor Dumouchel’s answers – he cuts through spin and political posturing like no one I know. I call my talks with him “reality checks” because that’s just what they are!

We are going to be talking with Professor Dumouchel on Nov. 28 for a post-election analysis of how the midterms may impact this administration’s foreign policy. Watch your inbox for the news that the full recording has been published for our subscribers. Thank you again for your ongoing commitment to our mission to end scapegoating and make peace a real possibility. And if you have any questions for our next interview with Prof. Dumouchel, please post them here. Thanks!


Paul Dumouchel is Professor of philosophy at the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. He is co-author with Jean-Pierre Dupuy of L’Enfer des choses, René Girard et la logique de l’économie (Paris: Seuil, 1979) and author of Emotions essai sur le corps et le social (Paris: Les Empêcheurs de Penser en rond, 1999). He co-edited with Jean-Pierre Dupuy L’auto-organisation de la physique au politique (Paris: Seuil, 1983), edited Violence and Truth  (Stanford University Press, 1988), Nationalisme et multiculturalisme en Asie (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010) and with Rieko Gotoh he co-edited Against Injustice: The New Economics of Amartya Sen (Cambridge University Press, 2009). His more recent books are Economia dell’invidia (Massa: Transeuropa, 2011), The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays (Michigan State University Press), and, with Reiko Gotoh, Social Bonds as Freedom (Berghahn Books). His recent book, The Barren Sacrifice: An Essay on Political Violence (Michigan State University Press)was first published as Le sacrifice inutile essai sur la violence politique (Paris: Flammarion, 2011). His latest book, published by Harvard University Press, is titled Living with Robots: Artificial Empathy and Philosophy of Mind was published in November 2017.

Reality Check Transcript

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Let us start to talk about the empire of evil. Like the political discourse kind of like taking the incredibly dip, drop because then it was the good guys and the bad guys, and now, everybody, well maybe not everybody but it has become normal lingual as if this was the way the world is made.

SUZANNE ROSS: Well  I mean from good guys and bad guys, we can move to discussing friends and enemies on the international stage right now. So there are two kinds of hot spots, going on right now in international relationships One of the hot spots is your neighborhood… 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Yes, next door.

SUZANNE ROSS: So, I wonder if you can give us your view on what the North Korean summit that happened with Trump and what came out of that, if anything? 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Well, photo op. More seriously, I think the North Korean crisis is viewed not only by the American but a lot of Europeans in a very strange way at least completely different from the way it is viewed when you live in Asia. I was at a conference last September in Tianjin, China and there was a professor there who was from Taiwan and we were having dinner after one of the nights  and he said, that Kim Jong-un, he had purged the party when he came into power. Very famously his uncle and a lot of the heads were killed and there was a lot of fake news and false publicity about… like one was shot by anti-aircraft cannon, the other one was given to be eaten alive by hundred dogs, whatever kind of like madness. These things were… and a lot of people also died and then two months later reappeared and this was just false information from western media. But what he was saying is that all these people that were purged from the party were essentially the pro-Chinese faction of the North Korean Communist Party. So what it means is that one of his objectives is to gain independence, a stronger independence from China. And that also means that there are many goals to the nuclear strategy that he has because this nuclear strategy is also aimed for China. 

And if it will take 45 minutes for a rocket to come to the United States, it will take 8 minutes to come to China, and the Chinese are well aware of that. So, that changes the image. I mean, this guy is also taking his decisions from the Chinese. Before the summit, there was a point where everybody agreed for sanctions against North Korea including the Chinese which usually, they do not do. So, why did they do it? Well, the fact that they did it proves simply that he has succeeded in his strategy. In other words, instead of the Chinese sending big brother to speak to younger brother, explain to him what to do or not what to do, they became like every other member of the international community in relationship to North Korea and voted for sanctions. 

That’s what it means. But we don’t pay attention to that when we are here. So, he’s playing a complex game which is to gain his independence, in a sense. And the other thing he does, which we have to see, is that well we have to recognize he is a very smart guy and that what he is doing by building his weapons. Why is he building is weapons? Is he building because he is a crazy fool who thinks that he will win a war against the United States? Of course not, he is building nuclear weapons for the same reason people have been building nuclear weapons, since the end of the Second World War, not to use them. Nuclear weapons are not weapons which are meant to be used, because they are too destructive. But they are made not be used because once you have them, you become a negotiator. He has succeeded because having built his nuclear weapons he succeeded in something nobody else succeeded. He got the president of the United States to come and talk to him. So, this is what is, this is the game that’s going on. He wants to be recognized as a power. And, of course, he has other issues, and if I was the South Koreans I’d be pretty worried. But that’s a different issue of course, but it’s not an entirely different issue, but it’s not exactly the same thing. What I mean by this is that I think on long term he has the vision of reunifying the Korean peninsula. 

SUZANNE ROSS: What do the South Koreans think of that? 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Well, they think reunification will be fine if it will be reunification, under South Korea, not reunification under North Korea. It’s an issue because I don’t think that this person will simply say, ‘okay, I will now become a democratic leader, I will be elected for the next 3 years.’ I don’t think so. Let’s be serious, this is not going to happen. But what he has succeeded in is gaining his independence from the Chinese, to a large extent. Even though now before the Trump, what he did, he went back to China and he went to speak to the Chinese. Because of course, what the Chinese don’t want, they absolutely do not want a war on the Korean peninsula, because they don’t want to have large numbers of American troops and highly powerful weapons and technology there. They just don’t want that. So that’s not in their favor. 

On the other hand, one thing they did is, at the height of the crisis, they built camps for North Korean refugees on the Chinese side of the border. And they send out information to the citizens about how to survive nuclear disaster. So, in other words, when the Chinese were doing that, they were saying to the North Koreans, we are not going to move. If the Americans bomb you, it’s your problem. We will receive the refugees. Of course, there is going to be fallout on China. We are just  going to tell people how to deal with. So these things are going out, so, my view is that it’s a complex situation and that this summit, has not achieved anything. Precisely because it is incapable by somebody who says, “I talked to him for 15 minutes and I knew he was sincere. We got along so well.” And that this will deal with the complexity of the situation? That’s very unlikely, very, very unlikely.

SUZANNE ROSS: Just to relate that thing, into Iran and Trump pulling out of that. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Well these two things also go very well together. I think from the mimetic point of view, it is very clear that Donald Trump has a mimetic relationship to Barack Obama. Intense, since he’s been in power, he is been deconstructing everything that was built by the Obama administration. And the end of the nuclear agreement with Iran is part of that because it was an Obama thing. That’s another reason why to get rid of it. He said it was a bad deal. It’s not clear what he means, but he says the worst deal in the world. It’s not clear what he means by that. It was a very thorough deal which was signed by Russia, by China, by Germany, by France, by England, by everybody very much who counts, as far as nuclear powers, who are very big powers. And it had  mechanism to check that the Iranians were not cheating ,and these mechanisms worked, and they showed they were not cheating. 

And in other to succeed that deal, what the Obama administration had done, and that is really fundamental, they had figured out that you have to deal with the nuclear issue separately. So what it means is that they separated in the negotiations, the negotiation about a nuclear course from negotiation about the issue of like the presence of Iranian troops in Syria, terrorism, the golf, everything. They just separated these things and they dealt with that in itself. Now the reason Trump is saying, well one of the reasons he claims, why he claims is such a bad deal, it’s precisely because it’s not taking these things into account. He says it’s a bad deal because the Iranians are in Syria; it’s a bad deal because they threaten Israel. I mean, all this is true but it’s a good deal because Obama was smart enough to separate those two things so that we come to a local agreement about something which is massively important. And by wanting to put all these things together again, it is just going to make a situation where there is no deal. And well, the other deal is which is an empty deal, because nobody knows what was in it, and now that Pompeo is gone, and it has been told he was a cowboy by North Korea.

The other deal is a deal, which is empty, there is nothing signed and there is no agreement. We don’t know, what really, except that Trump surprised everybody including his allies, the Japanese and the South Korean, when he said, “No more war games, costs us a lot of money”. And the Abe administration was like ‘No,’ they couldn’t understand.  

SUZANNE ROSS:  Iran is still a cooperating or trying to …

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Iran is still cooperating at this point. They still respect the rest of the major powers, the European community, Russian and China. Having said that, they will not denounce the deal. If they Iranians respect it, then they will respect it also. The problem now, of course, the Trump administration, is imposing sanctions against European countries, or others which will continue to…  I mean trade with Iraq, more or less. But, this is far from resolved, especially since now, the Trump administration has declared a trade war with the whole world. So, the consequences of this, from my point of view, is it will take time, it will hurt a lot of people, the whole world economy is going to be reorganize itself to be able to go around the Americans. This is the most likely thing. 

SUZANNE ROSS: It will, it makes perfect sense, I mean…

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: If you think the European community has a hard time speaking like one agent, but European community together is just a tack smaller economy that economy of the United States. It’s bigger than the economy of China. So, if you going to have a trade war, with Europe, China at the same time and Japan partially? Good luck. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Good luck is right. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: And these people are likely simply to augment the exchange among each other. And to take the place of the Americans. Simple stuff

SUZANNE ROSS: In this effort to defend the American economy and the American workers, we going to marginalize our economy, that’s what you are saying?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Yes, and just as the American are marginalizing themselves, politically, also, because the position of the Trump administration concerning NATO, concerning the G7 and so on, is safe distance from the traditional allies of the United States. And therefore, isolating itself politically and these people will also, I mean also now the Europeans are saying, now we are going to make good, we going to invest more money in military. But not to do it with you to do it without you. 

So, I guess making American great again, may be, in the mind of Trump, is inseparable from isolationism, being isolated, being different. So, therefore, the Americans are on not great because they have all these international responsibilities, but actually it’s because they have, and they have taken all these international responsibilities over the years that they are such important and great country. And if they break away from all of that, they will not be great, they will be all by themselves. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Which maybe brings us to our relationship with long-time adversary, sometimes friend, and now adversary again, Russia. Trump and Vladimir Putin seemed to a have mutual understanding. Talk about their relationship and what you think is going on there?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I am not quite sure what’s going on there. But I mean, Trump seems to have a liking for dictators and authoritarian figures. Whether it’s in Philippine, whether it is Putin, whether it is, what’s the name in Hungary, he likes them. And I think the relationship to Putin is the relationship of ‘yeah, I’d like to be like Putin and, in a sense, I am.’

SUZANNE ROSS: He wants to speak, what did he say, I want to say something and have people do it?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Yeah, that’s was about North Korea. And then there was also the great thing about Xi in China who got himself, pretty much, president for life. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Who was this?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: The president of China.

SUZANNE ROSS: President of China, yes.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: He actually, you know, got an unlimited mandate from the People’s Congress whatever. So, and Trump said, that, yeah, we should do that in United States, too. So he’s got an image of ruling which is very close to the image of those people or people like them. But the relationship with Putin is complex because even though Putin is, I think, an evil person, he is a very smart politician. He is very, very, smart. He plays his cards really well. So the danger is that Putin is just going to, as we say in French, take only one bite of Trump, one big bite. Because I think he will dance around him. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Well, and of course, what’s monopolizing domestic politics right now is the Russian interference in our election. And of course, Trump doesn’t seem… no collusion… you know he just keeps saying, nothing happened, but… 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: From an outside point of view, if you look at the decision of this administration in relationship to its European allies, NATO. And it has been taken, doing everything just to make the Russian to play to the Russian, to Putin. I mean Putin is happy to have a weakened NATO. Putin is happy if there is separation among the European allies and the Americans. Putin is happy if, as Trump suggested, maybe we’ll lift the sanctions because of Ukraine. So, now, it doesn’t mean he is been paid by Putin but it means that whether or not there was collusion, we know now for sure, it is clear, that the Russian tried to rig the election in such a way that it would lead to the election of Trump. Whether or not what they did actually succeeded, in a sense changed things, we don’t know about that. One thing is sure is that they invested their money at the right place, that’s true. They invested their money at the right place because the guy who got elected, they wanted him to get elected is doing good things for them, only good things for them. So, what is their relationship? We don’t know in a sense, but, at another level of description, it is clear. Now whether or not this is conscious, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. 

SUZANNE ROSS: I doubt it, I think it’s much more, like, very much like the model subject in mimetic relationship. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I think it is, its question of yeah, this is the way world should run, we should run the world, like we should have a leader that decisive. Yes , but it’s also, kind of a confusion from being the president of a company and from being an elected representative. Who is a president of a company you can say, especially if it owns most of it and saying whatever he wants, and can rule it as a dictator, if he wants…

SUZANNE ROSS: You’re fired?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Yeah, but if you are elected, you are a representative. That’s the way our system work, but that’s not something, I think…


PAUL DUMOUCHEL: It is not. For Trump popular up support is important, in a sense. That’s because that does give him legitimacy. But it doesn’t make him a representative of those people. And in any case the economic decision is being taken to a large extent, against the interest of the people who apparently voted  for him. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Exactly, it’s sad, ironic and so. Paul, thank you very much. And I think I’d like to book you for commentary after the midterm elections in November. We will see where it all goes. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I will be happy to. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

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